Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Harsh Discipline and No-excuse Charters continued

[I posted this at the teaching blog a few months ago, but it's a natural follow-up to the previous post on harsh discipline.]

When discipline crosses the line

I've been meaning to write this up for a while now, but recent news about attrition (see here and here for the conversation up to now) has brought the issue back to the forefront.

When you take a close at the increasingly dominant charter model (the "no-excuses" school) and some of the highly touted success stories (such as the KIPP schools), you will soon notice how extreme some of the discipline can be.
A tiny padded room at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School was a real-life nightmare for two young boys who were repeatedly detained in the tot cells, the Daily News has learned.

The students, who were enrolled in kindergarten and first grade at the highly regarded charter school, were both removed by their parents in the past two weeks after they suffered anxiety attacks as a result of their confinement.

“He was crying hysterically,” said Teneka Hall, 28, a full-time Washington Heights mom whose son, Xavier, was rushed to the hospital after he panicked and wet himself while he was holed up in the padded room. “It’s no way to treat a child.”

The school’s so-called “calm-down” room is small, about the size of a walk-in closet, said Hall, who visited it with her son at the start of the school year. It’s empty, but for a soft mat lining the floor and a single light on the ceiling.

The room’s only window is an approximately 2-foot by 3-foot panel in the single door. It’s partially covered so staffers can look inside, but children cannot. Students were placed in the room, alone, for 15 to 20 minutes at a stretch, their parents said.State law requires that children placed in a time-out setting be in a space where they can be seen and heard “continuously,” but it does not require adults to be in the room where children are stashed.

When 5-year-old Xavier was confined to the room on Dec. 3, he suffered an anxiety attack so severe that staffers called for emergency workers to take him to the hospital.

“I was scared,” said Xavier, who was taken to New York Presbyterian and released to his mom, who pulled him from the charter and enrolled him in another school immediately.
There are two points that cannot be overemphasized here.

The first is how rough, even traumatic, this and other policies of the get-tough, "no excuses" schools can be. There are kids who thrive in highly structured and disciplined environments, but there are many others who respond with varying degrees of anxiety, depression and/or anger. Then, to add injury to injury, this psychological toll is matched with an educational one. These kids are denied instruction through suspensions then forced out and sent to other generally underfunded schools, often in the middle of the year, a practice which maximizes the disruption and minimizes the chance to learn.

The second is the way the incentive system of the reform movement encourages these often brutal policies. They are an extraordinarily effective way of getting rid of kids whom you can't handle or who put a drain on you resources. The result is that the very thing that traumatizes these children produces promotions for administrators and funding increases for their schools.

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